December 4th, 2014

How Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary

colleen daily show

As you no doubt have heard, this week Hungary made some headlines in the US, due to a rash of embarrassing stories about incoming US Ambassador to Budapest Colleen Bell (above, as the big butt of a comic segment on the “Daily Show”), and some very tart comments about her and the current Hungarian government by Senator (and former GOP Presidential nominee) John McCain.

To be truthful, it was only a minor blip of a story over here in America, mostly attracting the attention of people who, like me, remain really pissed off that US President Barack Obama so scuzzily went back on his solemn pre-election pledge to end the sleazy practice of handing out ambassadorships to big-money campaign donors like the soap opera producer Bell. The story – especially the McCain angle – seemed to have been at least 100 times bigger in Hungary. Which is unsurprising, given that the influence of the US government over events in Hungary is at least 100 times that of the Hungarian government’s influence of events in the US. (If you doubt this, consider yesterday’s dispatch by the Associated Press entitled “US criticism boosts Hungary’s dissent movement,” and try to imagine a similar headline with the countries reversed.)

To be even more truthful, I am still so pissed off about Obama’s skanky betrayal and Bell’s laughable dilettantism, and unsettled by what seems to be Washington’s increasingly brazen meddling in the domestic politics of a fellow NATO member, I find it hard not to root against Team America in this case. So even though Hungarian Prime Viktor Orbán and his government are rather nasty pieces of work, here’s my free advice on how they can use the Bell fiasco to their advantage, in three easy steps.

1. Get rid of André Goodfriend. Last week opposition-friendly Hungarian commercial channel ATV featured an interview with a mid-ranking US State Department official named Thomas Melia in which Melia denied a report on state television that current chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend – who has run the embassy since the last unqualified moneybags ambassador went home – was leaving Budapest. (The report claimed Goodfriend would be replaced because “he appeared often and conspicuously at political events connected to Hungarian left-wing and liberal circles.”) In addition to being yet another reminder of the appalling mismatch in the two countries’ relative power – thanks to such media appearances Goodfriend and even Melia are household names in Hungary – it was a useful indication of Goodfriend’s perceived effectiveness and status as a quasi-savior of the opposition. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more energetic, eloquent and effective diplomat dedicated to righting what America thinks are wrongs, and who could help Bell make the most of her time as ambassador. Which is why he needs to go, ASAP.

As for how to get rid of Goodfriend, there are any number of ways. No doubt Goodfriend’s name has come up as official from Hungary’s foreign ministry have put together a plan to ban certain US officials from entering Hungary, mirroring the visa ban Washington slapped on Hungarian tax authority chief Ildikó Vida and a handful of other Hungarian officials allegedly guilty of corruption. I, however, would suggest something a bit more nuanced, namely telling Washington that the arrival of a new ambassador offers a chance for a fresh start in the bilateral relationship, and that, despite his good intentions, too many Hungarians see Goodfriend as partisan for him to play a constructive role in this new era of détente. If the Americans hesitate, they can play a little tougher, by threatening to make Bell a constant embarrassment for Foggy Bottom (the embarrassing nickname erudite American call the State Department’s Washington HQ), or even to refuse her credentials. The latter would of course not be much of a stretch, since she is now world famous for not having any credentials as a diplomat. And boy would it be an embarrassment for Obama, not least since he already spent her money. Still, the objective should be to replace the scrappy crusader hero with the over-entitled rich mall chick.

2. Kill Bell with kindness… Once Bell arrives, the government should immediately make it clear to her that her new job is worth every penny she and her LA friends paid for it. She should be wined, dined, schmoozed and snowed so hard she’ll forget all this business about creeping authoritarianism faster than you can say “the prime minister wants to get your feedback on something, Your Excellency.” In case you think this is unlikely or impossible, note that Orbán allegedly charmed Bell’s predecessor April Foley to distraction, and back then he was just a grumpy former prime minister. (“I can understand exactly what you are going through, Colleen. I too have been turned into a caricature by the media. But we – and history – are bigger than that.”)

3. …while sticking in and twisting the knife Even with Goodfriend out of the picture and Bell buttered up all the way to her botox holes, there will doubtless remain a dangerous anti-Orbán tilt at the embassy. So while Orbán and his people should take pains to publicly treat her as the respected face of Hungary’s new rapprochement with America, behind her back they should offer (and engineer) constant reminders of her buffoonery and impotence, spreading enthusiasm-sucking dismay on a Hungarian left that these days seems like it would be happy for an American-backed coup d’état if it would put their people back in charge.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned since returning to the US, it’s that this country is tired of its government going around the world overthrowing other governments – even when this government is not being represented by ambassadors who have bought their positions like the latest designer accessory. So while I am still no fan of Viktor Orbán and his gang, in this case they can consider me their good friend in America.

Erik D'Amato (@erikdamato) is publisher and editor-in-chief of the All Hungary Media Group.
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  • wolfi

    Erik, are you home sick for Hungary?
    Btw, I don’t think that the Fidesz guys in the foreign ministry are clever enough to follow your advice.
    And anyway Mr Goodfriend might return as some kind of Nemesis – responsible for the relations between Washington and Eastern Europe?

    I know that Hungary is officially part of Central Europe – but the things going on here are surely Balcanesque!

  • Good advice, I support them. 🙂

  • roderickbeck

    I don’t why Erik is turning so soft on authoritarian Hungary. Hell, Fidesz got a 2/3rd majority in Parliament with slightly under 50% of the vote. Does anyone believe that such an election would be allowed to stand in the United States, Great Britain, France or Germany? Hell no. Hungary is a political cancer.

    • Pendir

      It happens everywhere where is plurality voting system (or it’s part of
      whole voting system). So in United Kingdom in latest elections
      Conservatives won 47% of seats by gaining only 37% of votes. In Germany
      CDU has 49% of seats in Bundestag by scoring only 41% of votes on
      elections. In 1994 in Hungary, MSZP had only 31% of votes and 54% of
      seats in parliament!

      • roderickbeck

        I don’t have time check your claim, but the disparity has widened since Fidesz changed the voting districts.

        Under the current voting districts Fidesz would have won every election since the fall of the wall.

      • roderickbeck

        And add to that the severe limitations on political advertising (has to be done for free by the commercial networks) and it is clearly a rigged system.

        • wolfi

          Pendir is an idiot who either knows nothing about German laws or lies consciously!

          The German election law says that parties with less than 5% of the votes get no seats (their sum was around 15% in 2013) – the seats were divided among the parties which were above that limit – so the SPD got 21,5% of the votes but around 30% of the seats etc …

          • Pendir

            Calling me an idiot is rude, you know.

            What’s the difference between German and Hungarian electoral system? Both are mixed types of plurality voting system and proportional system. Both have 5% threshold (not only Germans have it but Hungary also!)!

            I think, that you don’t understand how plurality voting system works. I can give you more examples of elections results where % of votes are way different than % of seats won.

            e.g. 2011 election in Poland for Senate. PO (Civic Platform) gained only 35% of votes and won 63% of seats in Senate.

            another example – USA. In latest House of Representatives elections on Novemeber 2014.
            In state of Connecticut Democrats had something about 60% of votes and won all the mandates (100% !!!). Republicans had about 40% of votes and got nothing. Absolutely nothing! 0%

          • wolfi

            Your Kindergarten logic is typical.
            The other boy did something similar last week – so why am I being punished?

  • Varga

    Honestly……..Do you not think that Bell would be somewhat expecting the Hungarian government to snowball her? I understand that it is your stance that the USA should quit trying to overthrow governments, its total bullshit, the US is no angel. However, being here yourself for many years watching democracy erode further and further, do you really think that the US is wrong for finally taking a stance against the Hungarian government for their corruption? Do you think that they are trying to overthrow Fidesz? I don’t believe that they are. They may want the people to finally stand up to Fidesz and demand answers and changes, but I don’t think they are responsible for the political dissent. People are finally getting the message they are being screwed over and I don’t think it is only the left that causing the dissent either. If Bell is smart, which I believe she is, she should take all the buttering the government wants to give her and basically stand her ground with all of the issues that are the problem here in Hungary. That would show Fidesz that they shouldn’t underestimate her because she is a woman. I know they think as well as many men, not just Hungarian ones that she is just an incompetent soap opera producer, but I think she is as strong business woman and knows what she is getting herself into. I hope she sticks it to all of them and proves them all wrong.

    • Except that among “all of the issues that are the problem here in Hungary” corruption is perhaps paramount, and Colleen Bell is nothing if not a creature of corruption in politics. More broadly, what business does a country that sells ambassadorships for party bag-stuffers (and lying about it!) have haranguing other countries about corruption?

      • Spagettiszörny

        Erik, Do you honesty believe in your heart of hearts that the corruption endemic across the totality of society in Russia or third-world developing countries is comparable to handing out some ambassadorships to supporters?

        • roderickbeck

          Erik doesn’t believe it. He is really pissed about Obama’s executive order on immigration. He just needs to let it out. After his Republican brethren are not exactly innocent on selling of ambassadorships.

          • Wrong: The crony/donor ambassador thing really is a major and long-running bugbear of mine (one of my prized possessions is a letter from George Herbert Walker responding to my taunting of him years ago on And while the Repubs certainly have done it, unlike Obama they didn’t smarmily promise not to and then go ahead do it anyway, which is why I am particularly cheezed off at him.

            But overall I would say that right now I am more driven by a growing sense that the US really should just go a little easier on telling other countries how sausages are made in a real democracy.

        • Not the same thing, but certainly comparable – especially the lying about it.

          • ViktorZorroban

            Not the same thing indeed. Of course there’s collusion, conflicts of interest, and lying in politics anywhere in the world – even in the most developed countries. But in Hungary the revolving doors between the Government and their cronies are spinning dangerously, wildly today.

      • roderickbeck

        Erik, there is a big difference between contributing to a political party and getting a political appointment in return and the Director of NAV asking IBM to renovate her home in exchange for an IT contract.

        If Obama was a Republican President who supported the 2nd Amendment, would you be up in arms? I kind of doubt it.

        And no corruption is not the paramount issue. The paramount is that you can’t have fair elections when the public media is clearly biased in favor of the government, the voting districts are so skewed that Fidesz wins as long as their core supporters don’t support them, and the opposition can’t even engage in meaningful political advertising outside of telephone poles!!!

      • Varga

        What has happened here is not a new thing and certainly not exclusive to Democrats.

      • Géza

        well said Erik!

      • Saint Coemgen

        Appointing Bell is not an example of “corruption”. It is called the “spoils system” as it was coined in US Politics since Andrew Jackson. Yes, the “spoils system” is way to “rewarding” supporters (who may be incompetent or otherwise not really justified to hold a position they were given), but that still is not corruption by definition. Please understand the actual and legal definitions of words before you use them.

  • Article 7

    MS. bell was chosen to be ambassador to Hungary to discount Vikor and his dictatorship She is coming here as an insult. Hungary accepted her ambassadorship some time ago.

    • I’m flattered for America that you think this was what led to her appointment. In reality, she was chosen to be ambassador to Hungary because she needed to be paid off, and Budapest looks pretty in pictures and is close to good shopping farther west.

      • roderickbeck


        So what? Your Republican brethren have been doing this as long as the Democrats. I don’t like the selling of ambassadorships, but nothing particularly liberal about fighting for fair elections and against the corruption and other political ills afflicting Hungary. Hungary is a political cancer. It represents the return of a type of politics where governments use appointments to undermine checks and balances and where political appointments are judged largely on loyalty test.

      • roderickbeck

        I think you stop shooting and see how she performs. Should I assume the next Republican President appoints a businessman supporter to the French embassy that it is about pretty pictures and French call girls?

        McCain has supported lots of unqualified Republican ambassadorial candidates. He produces some great quotes, but last time I checked he was not Presidential material. May be he is a bit bitter at Obama ….

      • Varga

        I agree it seems odd that she was chosen, but maybe she has a few tricks up her sleeve and will prove to be better than expected.

  • incredible

    I agree the charge d’affaires is a shit stirrer, but he is just a puppet controlled by CIA….

    • Spagettiszörny

      I love how everyone blames everything on the CIA when in reality they’re one of the most incompetent organizations on earth. Read through some of their recently de-classified operations. It’s a joke.

      • incredible

        And what about Syria or Ukraine (+ Panama, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan etc)? Where were you in the past thirty years?

        • Spagettiszörny

          Oh, they definitely *have* succeeded quite a few times. But the whole litany of their operations, taken together, is pathetic. Air dropping random people into North Korea with no materials, expecting them to start a revolution? They’ve done that kind of shit over and over again.
          But please don’t tell me you actually think ISIS is some CIA creation. Or that the CIA single-handedly brought all those people out onto the street in Kiev (or Tehran in 2009 for that matter.)

          Usually when they succeed, it’s because they come into a situation where there’s already an active struggle for power, and they give it a final push (Chile and Congo are prime examples.)

          Also, Panama, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan don’t really have much to do with the CIA. They were straight-up military operations/invasions. No attempt at clandestine acts.

    • wolfi

      And Orbán is a puppet controlled by Putin?

  • Géza

    Finally a objective article!

  • Saint Coemgen

    “Washington’s increasingly brazen meddling in the domestic politics of a
    fellow NATO member, I find it hard not to root against Team America in
    this case.”

    NATO is a team. Individual team members can disagree behind closed doors “in the locker room” about the team, but on the field they are all expected to act for the good of the team and in a team spirit toward a common goal. When one member starts kicking the ball in the other direction the other team members certainly have the right for an “intervention”. So I do think NATO countries certainly have a “team interest” in how any one of their member countries behaves.

    Maybe you have been in the “opposition” too long. Or you never played on a sports team. But when you are on a team you should know you are on a team, and you should realize the team is more than the individual. As a team member you act with one public voice. If you don’t want to do that, you should leave the team. Pick one. NATO can not afford to have a member who is not acting like a team member for the good of the team, and who may not be 100% reliable when the chips are down.

    Any NATO member has its right to ask any other NATO member to act as a team member. And Viktor Orbán, who loves football and has played team sports, should expect this.

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